the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Writing Inspiration – The South West

When Nicole Fitton and I met on Twitter we were keen to share the experience of living and writing in the South West of England. I am pleased to welcome Nicole to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter where she answers our shared questions (mine appear after).  First, let me introduce Nicole.

Nicole Fitton lives and writes in the heart of Devon. She writes both thrillers and short stories, many of which have been short and longlisted. This year her flash fiction piece ‘Yellow‘ was featured as part of  National Flash Fiction Day on the Flash Flood Journal Blog.

Nicole Fitton

  1. Have you always lived in South West England?

The short answer is no! I started my journey towards living in the West Country as a ‘grockle’ (tourist). The children were small back then and we would set off at the crack of sparrows and head west. Like many who’d travelled before us, we would wind our way slowly down the A303 for two glorious weeks in North Devon come rain or shine! We promised ourselves that if we ever got the opportunity to relocate we would grab it with both hands. Well, that’s what happened. In 2010 we relocated because of my husband’s work. It was a big decision. I am so proud of the way our kids adapted. It was a big shock initially, but within a few months they were taking everything in their stride – even school lessons delivered on the beach – now that was a first!

Until our move to Devon I had lived mainly in big cities such as London and New York. My work in international PR and marketing took me all over the world, and I know I draw on a lot of those experiences when I write.

I now live betwixt the villages of Iddesleigh and North Tawton. Iddesleigh is famously the home of author Michael Morpurgo whilst North Tawton was home to the late poet laureate Ted Hughes. It is a place of isolation, and I love it. There is something quite profound about my small hamlet which runs along the river Taw. Perhaps it is the ebb and flow of the river. I’m not sure, but I know it has worked its way into my bones. Living in a farming community the effects of late harvests, early harvests, failed crops, all subconsciously inform my thinking. I seem to draw on the landscape especially with my short stories.

  1. Is there one particular place in the South West that is special to you, if so why?

I find myself drawn back to the River Taw time and time again. When we first arrived in Devon, it was the first place I discovered within walking distance of the house. We would spend many a happy hour skimming stones, swimming or sitting on ‘the beach’ (a patch of sandy shingle by the river’s edge). There are many ‘hidden’ parts of the river and every time I walk there I find something new.

Further afield I would say it would have to be the North Devon coastline. It is wild and structurally stunning. The rock formations you see are dramatic and magnificent. I have a story in mind for that coastline! Peppered in between the ancient stone cliffs are sandy coves and big expanses of golden beaches. My favourite beach is Westward Ho! The only place in the UK to have an exclamation mark as part of its name – fact!

WestWard Ho!

  1. What is it like to be a writer in the South West?

Devon is a superb place to write, and if someone were to do an audit or something clever like that I believe they would find a writer present in every village! There are a wealth of literary festivals and events across the county, which provide fantastic opportunities for support and collaboration year round.It is such a positive community. I belong to a group called the Sakura Positive Press Writers Group; we hold open mic evenings in our local pub for storytelling. It’s great fun. It would be great if we could roll this out across the region. Stories were initially told that way, and it would be great to see this form reignited.

Nicole’s Blog : www.nicolefittonauthor.com

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/nicolefittonauthor/

Twitter:@MisoMiss

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/misomiss/

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Gail Aldwin

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  1. Have you always lived in South West England?

Dorchester in Dorset became my home in 2007. At the beginning, I wasn’t particularly pleased to be moving from my lovely life in south London but my children and me had to up sticks when my husband got a job in the county town. I soon came to appreciate the benefits of living in a county area and it certainly extended the childhood experiences of my son. He spent his summers building camps and swimming in the river where his London friends thought a good day out was visiting Chessington World of Adventures.

Although I was brought up in London, I spent several years travelling overseas and have lived and worked in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. I do like a remote and beautiful location but living in one is not always easy. There are stories set in Australia and Papua New Guinea in Paisley Shirt, my recently published collection of short fiction. Something of a place remains with me from all the different locations I’ve experienced.

  1. Is there one particular place in the South West that is special to you, if so why?

Chapel Porth in winter

My husband is from Cornwall and we spent many summers on the north coast when my children were little. Our favourite beach is Chapel Porth near St Agnes where a river meets the sea. Out of season, my husband and son spent many hours damming the river in order to flood the beach but that wouldn’t make them popular in the summer when it gets packed with visitors. My novel The String Games draws from my experience of losing my son when he was three years old on a crowded beach. While I was busy smothering my daughter in sunscreen, he wandered off.  I started searching for him by heading in the wrong direction. In spite of a tannoy announcement, he was lost for forty minutes then I eventually found him way down the beach jumping over the ways and completely oblivious to the panic he had caused.

Closer to home in Dorchester, it’s possible to walk across the water meadows and experience Thomas Hardy country. I love going to the cottage that is the place of his birth in Higher Bockhampton. I usually take a detour to visit the great writer’s gravestone in the churchyard at Stinsford. Although it was Hardy’s dying wish to be buried there with his parents, the executor of his will had other ideas and Hardy’s body ended up in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey while his heart was buried in Dorset.  Along the shaded riverside walk I imagine how this place sparked ideas for Hardy and try to generate a few myself!

  1. What’s it like to be a writer in the South West?

Dorset has a thriving writing community with literary events scheduled across the county. I am Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network and work with the steering group to inspire writers and connect creative communities. We do this by putting on workshops and talks to support writers at different stages of their writing journey. The South West is full of creative people and I love to link up with writers in different counties. I have taken steps to achieve this by joining activities in Devon. I delivered a spoken word performance at the Sandford Y Festival book event and participated in the Chudleigh Dragons pitching competition as part of their annual festival. I would love to see better links for writers across the South West so that we can celebrate the creativity of the region.

Dorset Writers Network:            http://www.dorsetwritersnetwork.co.uk

Facebook:                                https://www.facebook.com/gailaldwinwriter/

Twitter:                                     @gailaldwin

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National Flash Fiction Day Launch

L-R Bob Jacobs, Vanessa Gebbie, Sara Crowley, Holly Howitt

With other flash fiction writers, (including Tim Stevenson who unfortunately is not in the photo) I celebrated National Flash Fiction Day  on 16 May in Southampton.  The event was held in the lecture theatre at the Central Library and offered all of the invited writers a chance to share their work.  As it was also the launch of Jawbreakers an anthology to mark the first National Flash Fiction Day, many chose to read flashes from the new publication. And I used it as an opportunity to promote the work of Flash Fiction South West, reading Greenhayes from Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories. If you’d like to learn more about flash fiction, please click here for an interesting article.

Rachel Carter had the idea to create an on-line anthology for Flash Fiction South West. I was recruited as a reader to filter submissions and as I live in Dorset, I was also entitled to submit to the anthology.  It has been a pleasure to work with Rachel, a talented writer and photographer who also found the time to compile and edit the print anthology.  She should have a medal the size of a dinner plate in recognition for her hard work.

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#fridayflash: Greenhayes

‘Christ, what was that?’ Frank doesn’t answer but turns over, pulling the duvet with him. I roll out of bed and peek through the blinds. ‘Sounded like a car back firing.’

‘Not on Greenhayes. There aren’t any old bangers around here.’

I scan the cul-de-sac, looking for any sign of movement but it’s all quiet. The mock-tudor houses stand in a row and our bay window offers a good view. I notice movement on the porch next door. It would be a foolish burglar trying to gain entry at the front. Reaching for my glasses, I see more clearly. There’s naked woman slumped on the doormat. Her tapered legs stretch to the step and her skin’s all pearly in the moonlight.

‘Well I never.’ The woman hugs her knees, trying to hide her breasts the size of honeydews. ‘It’s Jenny. Herman must’ve chucked her out.’

‘I knew that marriage was never going to last.’

‘But it’s the middle of the night and she’s got nothing on.’ I grab Frank’s dressing gown and tie the belt around my waist, throwing the other robe over my shoulder.

‘Blimey, what a woman.’ Frank’s at the window now he knows there’s something worth watching. I stand beside him and we see Jenny shivering. ‘You can’t go interfering.’

‘I’m only going to lend her my robe.’

‘Herman went off his head when I cut a few inches off his precious Leylandii. You don’t want to make an enemy of him.’

‘I can’t leave Jenny stuck on the porch like that. I’ll never get a wink of sleep if I don’t help her.’

I leave the house, my slippers clip-clopping as I walk to the boundary. The night is clear but the damp air clings. Standing on tiptoes I peer over the wall. She sees me and scurries through the shrubs. Passing over the robe I notice her fingers are like ice. She pulls a smile but looks set to burst into tears.

‘Thank you.’ Jenny’s swollen top lip makes it hard for her to speak.

‘Might stop you getting a cold – I’d invite you back but Frank says no. Won’t hear of it after that last row he had with Herman.’

‘It’s okay.’ She struggles to get her arms into the sleeves. ‘Herman will let me in soon.’

‘Okay then.’

I still can’t sleep in spite of my good deed and when it’s time to get up, I’m like a dishrag. Limping to the window, I draw the blinds and there’s no sign of Jenny. She must’ve found refuge somewhere. When I get downstairs, there’s a parcel on the back porch. I peel back the brown paper and there’s my robe all fluffy and warm from the tumble dryer. There was no need to wash and return it so promptly. I find an envelope nestling by the collar and inside there’s a thank you note from Jenny.  She’s signed her name in loopy handwriting and at the bottom, there’s a smiley face.  Only this smiley face has a black eye.  I wonder if it’s a coded message for help and I think about Jenny trapped in Herman’s executive home like a modern day Cinderella but without a prince in sight. I look again at the smiley face and decide it’s not a black eye just a blot from the ballpoint pen.

This story currently appears on Flash Fiction South West which celebrates National Flash Fiction Day on 16 May 2012.

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And I always thought writing was hard work…

On one the most beautiful days of this year, I was in Waterstones, Dorchester selling copies of The Rosemary Project. The anthology comprises poetry and prose by writers from across Dorset and all money raised goes towards  Alzheimer’s Research and Mindful (which supports a memory cafe in North Dorset). Although The Rosemary Project was the branch best-seller for the day, I only managed to sell eleven copies. Read the rest of this entry »

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